The ‘Jesus is Lord’ stenciled in green letters across the wall of his house indicates the attitude with which Daniel approaches life. The 64-year-old, HIV-positive man doesn’t hesitate when asked about himself. In strained but clear English, he concisely tells of his life. He tells of the strong reaction he had to the ARVs he began taking two years prior, of the hard lesson that it is necessary to take food with the drug or your body will react negatively, even when there is little food to be found. He tells of the difficulty of his experience with stigma, the devastation of being cast aside by family, friends and church, and the widespread misconceptions of the illness. But the undeniable truth of the situation: “we have watched our friends die.”
A long journey has led to a profound clarity for this elderly man: that people need to share about their experiences with AIDS, to tell others how to care for themselves, because no one else will. Daniel expresses the need and his desire to start support groups for people with HIV, so they can honestly share their knowledge about how to take care of themselves with one another.
In other areas of his life, it is clear that Daniel lives by the same strong conviction from which he speaks. His wife has remained virus-free because the couple chooses to use protection during intercourse, an extremely progressive, informed decision considering their age and culture. In addition to caring for their own five children, the couple has also taken in a neighbor boy, Chavala, who is 12-years-old.
Chavala lives with his grandmother who, because of age and lack of resource, is unable to do much for the boy. Chavala, too, is HIV-positive and on ARVs, and Daniel’s family has undertaken his complete care, providing him with food and taking him to the clinic.
In the community of Roan in Luanshya, Zambia, where Daniel and Chavala live, the situation is worsening for people with HIV. Roan was once supported almost totally by work from the nearby copper mines. But as the mines continue to close due to the worsening economy, food is less easily obtained and many on ARVs who could eat regularly as their medication requires, now can’t. The result is increased sickness and more deaths.
This is Daniel’s biggest worry—poverty. As for his illness, it is not a concern to him, he says with certainty and resolve, “What I can say is? the blood of Christ covers me.”